B.C. surgeries delayed due to thousands of unvaccinated health care workers

B.C.’s hospitals and emergency rooms are being impacted by unvaccinated health staff, many of whom are now off the job and placed on unpaid leave since the mandatory vaccine requirement took effect last week.

The 3,325 health care workers will have three months to get their shots. If they don’t in that time, they could lose their jobs entirely, in what Health Minister Adrian Dix says is a necessary step.

An additional 2,064 workers have one shot and will need to get their second in the next four weeks.

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry spoke frankly about the high number of staff who refuse to meet the base requirement.

“[If] now is not the time that you start to believe in the importance and the value of vaccination in protecting people, then I don’t know when is,” Henry said.

“If people are in our health care system and not recognizing the importance of vaccination — then that’s probably not the right profession for them.”

Meanwhile, the health minister says 95.8 per cent of health care workers are vaccinated. He provided a breakdown of which areas are seeing the largest number of holdouts, by health authority.

  • Fraser Health: 587 health care workers (2 per cent)
  • Northern Health: 320 health care workers (4 per cent)
  • Interior Health: 1,018 health care workers (5 per cent)
  • Vancouver Island 480 health care workers (2 per cent)
  • Vancouver Coastal Health: 478 health care workers (2 per cent)
  • Providence Health Care 104 health care workers (1 per cent)

Unvaccinated doctors, nurses, staff in the Interior

As a result of more than 1,000 unvaccinated health care staff, many patients awaiting surgery or procedures could be delayed even further.

“[Kelowna General Hospital] has reduced two operating rooms this week to compensate for staff who did not meet vaccination requirements… this will improve next week with just one operating room reduced,” Dix said Monday.

Non-urgent eye care procedures are also postponed at Kelowna General Hospital in order to respond to critical care surge planning needs.

He said unvaccinated staff are primarily a challenge in the Interior, which continues to see low vaccination rates compared to the rest of the province.

At the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, a number of inpatient surgeries have been postponed.  The full extent of the impacts will be released by the province on Thursday.

Those surgeries will be replaced by same-day surgeries to meet current health demands.

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The impact will not only be felt by those awaiting awaiting surgery or other procedures, but in lab results which could be slow in several areas.

In the small village of Keremeos, in the southern interior, the emergency department at the South Similkameen Health Centre will be closed during evenings and weekends due to unvaccinated physicians.

As a result, anyone needing emergency care will need to get to Penticton, Oliver, or Princeton for treatment.

Fraser Valley hospital wait times

In Fraser Health, a smaller number of surgeries have been postponed due to unvaccinated staff but no further postponements are expected in the coming weeks as a result, Dix says.

Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre and New Westminster’s Royal Columbian Hospital each continue to reduce one operating room due to critical care demand.

Abbotsford Regional will instead focus on same-day surgeries that don’t require a patient to use a bed overnight in the month of November.

Staffing pressures in Vancouver, North Vancouver, Richmond, and more

In the Vancouver Coastal Health region, unvaccinated staff have not had a direct impact on surgical procedure but ongoing demand for critical care and current staffing pressures have reduced a number of operating rooms for an extended period of time.

These operating rooms are at North Vancouver’s Lions Gate Hospital, Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver’s Mount Saint Joseph Hospital, and Richmond Hospital.

Plans are in place to resume these surgeries in those operating rooms in the new year in Richmond Hospital, and in February at the other three hospitals.

Both B.C. Women’s Hospital & Health Centre and BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver will also have future impacts on its procedures, the health minister says.

Vancouver Island services impacted as well

Island Health patients will also not see an overall impact on their surgeries as a result of unvaccinated staff, but the area still remains under pressure.

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital’s non-urgent surgeries continue to be postponed this week but some will resume next week, the health minister says.

One to two operating rooms are reduced due to ongoing demand for critical care.

Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital will continue to have one operating room reduced until at least the middle of December to support demand in other areas.

Northern health patients straining other health regions 

In Northern Health, no unvaccinated staff are to blame for the surgical delays, but high COVID-19 cases continue to stress the already short-staffed region.

As a result, many patients have been moved to other hospitals in order to ensure they can receive adequate care.

In the last two months, 92 patients have been transferred from northern B.C. to other parts of the province, primarily the Lower Mainland, to receive urgent care.

“That’s 92 people, all critically ill, who have been transported away from home during the most challenging of times,” Dix said, as he appealed for anyone who is unvaccinated to get their shots right away.

With files from Lisa Stacey

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